When future historians begin to assess the causes and effects of
deforestation in the 20th century, their discussions may well begin
with the wanton destruction of Asian rainforests.
Most tropical Asian countries have either eliminated or severely
altered more than 85 percent of their original plant cover. The
destruction is continental in scale and probably unprecedented in
Cambodia maintains about 50 percent of its original forest cover –
often much degraded, but forests nonetheless – and comprises a
significant part of the “Indo-Burma hotspot”: a biogeographic region
renowned for its high biological diversity.
In recognition of this extraordinary biological richness, Cambodia in
the early 1990s chose to establish protected areas in mountainous
regions, where demand for arable land was less acute and logging was
Timber companies, however, typically enjoy first right of access to
highly lucrative stands of wet, lowland forests as they produce high
timber volumes and need minimal investment for road construction and
This general policy lacks logic because it encourages economists and
land use planners to conserve a country’s least productive forests.
The practice also circumvents sound conservation plans, since lowland
rainforests sustain unique species and biological communities that are
not represented in mountainous terrain.
Just how unique are living communities of lowland environments in
relation to mountainous terrain? In Cambodia we simply do not know. The
only detailed scientific publication about a lowland rainforest in
Cambodia focuses on an evergreen rainforest that once thrived near
This forest is lost to history, having been converted into an acacia
tree plantation for making pulp and woodchips for plasterboard.
This situation is unfortunate, because it means Cambodian foresters
have no single study to which they can refer for guidance to make sound
land management decisions.
This is a sorry state of affairs for a country that depends heavily on
its timber resources, especially so when all other lowland rainforests
in Cambodia, such as those once found on the southern slopes of the
Cardamom and Phnom Damrei (Bokor) mountains, are damaged beyond
These once productive woodlands will require many decades of careful
management before timber extraction can resume. Or, perhaps of equal
importance, they will need many centuries of safekeeping before they
return to their original state.